Sociological Perspectives on Sex and Gender
“The pursuit of knowledge has historically been considered the work of men” (Anderson p.295). Many women were bound to house work and duties to their children, rather than obtaining a degree for the purpose of work. Education and work were highly ignored because, “Before the Civil War, the role of women in society was different. Women were expected to stay home to take care of their children and perform household chores, while the men were the bread earners” (Shah). Though, after the war in the late 1800’s, women were in search of jobs to support themselves, specifically African American women, being that they were recently freed from slavery. At this time, there was also a very racially segregated way of work, being that white women would earn higher positions than women of color. This essentially created a movement of women and a shift in the workforce ideals. Then during World War II, this same need to fill jobs were prominent. Expanding the work to this extent, wages decreased as more and more women began to work. Women were taking the positions that men held previously because now men were fighting in the war and work still needed to get done, “During this time, women felt a new sense of independence and freedom because they were doing the same work as the men did. However, this feeling did not last very long. Once World War II was over most men wanted their jobs back, and a lot of women either had to leave the workforce, or return to their previous secretarial, teaching, and other feminine jobs” (Shah).
In terms of women’s work, there are three time periods that have structurally developed as time continued; there is the family-based economy, the family-wage economy, and the family consumer economy. The family-based economy takes place in the 17th century to the early 18th century and focuses on “…where the household [were] the basic unit of the economy… including small farms, large plantations, and haciendas” (Anderson p. 114). There was a heavy focus on agricultural work in the household as producers to the economy and this is how people earned their wages. Then came the family-wage economy, that brought people out of their houses and into factory jobs, “This shift was the result of industrialization that began in England in the mid eighteenth century” (Anderson p. 115). This is where dual roles of labor and household chores came into effect for women. Lastly, is the family-consumer economy which is our economy today. As there were technological developments in the 20th century “…the mass production of good has created households centered o consumption and reproduction” (Anderson p. 117). From this, women participation in the labor force was on a steady increase. Being a consumer base household that can now indulge in luxuries, these luxuries cost money, which is another reason why women work; they must abide to these new societal norms for their family.
As the economy developed following these various time periods, the workforce expanded from single women to married women “…since 1960, married women with children have nearly tripled their labor force participation” (Anderson p. 128). Now, as women became more independent from their husbands, they now supported the household, as well as, continue their daily chores of cleaning, cooking, and raising children; this correlates to the family-wage economy. The family-wage economy resulted in more women pursuing school to obtain higher wage jobs for additional income. This is also very prominent in single parent households where the mother is the sole means income. According to the graph “Men’s and Women’s Educational Attainment”, as of the 1940’s, less than 5% of women participated in college education while men were more than 5%. The late 1900’s, show the steady increase of both men and women but men were always higher n the percentile range. For instance, in 2000 men were at a 30% rate of of attending college while women were less than 30% but in 2010 women were now reaching the 40% mark while men were around 45% (Anderson p. 296). This increase of women attending school was a major means of the hierarchical place women developed in society. Even so, there was still a stereotypical lense placed on what women should go to school for. In the 1950’s for women’s schooling, “…the curriculum taught them typing, shorthand, and other skills associated with women’s presumed proper role” (Anderson p. 296).
Similarly in the 1960’s women were required to take a cooking course but even today women are seemingly categorized in the same fields that are considered ‘for women’, “…women are more likely to graduate in certain fields- namely, education, the arts, humanities, social sciences, and law- whereas men more likely graduate in science, mathematics, and engineering” (Anderson p. 296). This in turn was seen as a physical weakness that women could only learn what they could handle, but this bias was not true in the slightest. Even now, as women have more choice in terms of their education, there is still, “…gender bias in education [that] persists” (Anderson p. 297).
Gender within schooling has always contained a bias when it comes to students whether it is realized or not, “…the outcomes of education reveal strong evidence of the influence of gender…achievement tests, course-taking patterns, curriculum content, and student interests” (Anderson p. 298). Counselors and teachers expectations within the schooling system, are large factors that affect these various categories; this is also known as the self-fulfilling prophecy. If said counselor or teacher “…thinks that girls are unlikely to become scientists is unlikely to encourage girls to pursue advanced science and math coursework” (Anderson p. 299). Overall, this impacts the way women choose what they think they should study versus what they want to really study. Interactions between students also influences the gender bias within individuals. Examples, such as, boys being called on in class more frequently or simply calling out boys before girls when getting the attention of the class, clearly relays a gender dominance seen within school culture. The Title IX of the Educational Amendments from 1972, forbids gender discrimination within the school system to allow women to recieve equal opportunity but with the persuasion of those within the system itself, being the soul proprietors when it comes to student benefit, this discrimination and stereotyping can be hidden. Even so, this amendment brought great opportunities to women especially within sports and classes that were now available to them. The very fact that women could choose what they want to study is a big step from simply being placed in “women based activities” such as cooking or sewing classes.
According to the textbook Thinking about Women, sexual harassment is an “unwanted imposition of sexual requirements in the context of a relationship of unequal power” (Anderson p. 418). Experiences can range from sexual remarks in person or over the internet and physical means of unwanted touching of any kind. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 prohibits this behavior and deems it illegal in schools and work environments. In many cases of sexual harassment it is difficult for women to discuss the situations because of the myths that deem this as the women being at fault. Thinking about Women further explains that “Sexual harassment is fundamentally a matter of the misuse of power and is deeply linked to gender attitudes” (Anderson p. 145).
Since women began to expand their work from the Civil War, there has been a wage gap between the earnings of women versus men. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research writes, “Women, on average, earn less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio…sex and race discrimination in the workplace shows outright discrimination in pay, hiring, or promotions.” Even with the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which “U.S. Federal Law aimed [to] [abolish] wage disparity based on sex” women still feel the effects of these wage differences (“Gender and Work” Powerpoint). It is hard to tell why exactly women receive less money than men in terms of wage so we can only presume it has to do with discrimination. Overt discrimination is essentially illegal but other forms of discrimination such as institutionalized discrimination is harder to discern “…because it does not involve an overtly sexist comment or deliberate exclusion from a job” (Anderson p. 139).
In the article “An economist explains why women are paid less”, Laura Tyson also brings up various other points to answer this question further, “Women choose different occupations from men. Women around the world are also more likely than men to work part-time…wage penalty for motherhood…[and] significant amount of work associated with running a household…”. Women do tend to choose the jobs that are lower paying due to societal expectations of them being teachers, secretaries, or tend to children in a care field. Many occupations such as engineers and scientists, the areas that make the most money, are categorized as a field for men because subjects such as math are seen as “manly”. Women also work part-time due to the other duties they must attend to such as housework and caring for their children. When a women is in motherhood they are also confined to the motherhood penalty which is a reduced pay for women who have children. Tyson explains that “According to OECD data, the motherhood penalty amounts to about a 7% wage reduction per child.” Lastly, there is a reach for the shared work ideal between man and women within terms of housework. The work is disproportional as women are found to be affected with the amount of paid versus unpaid work which is overall tiring.
In order to eliminate both sexual harassment and discrimination in women’s pay is to stop it from happening by speaking up. If people continue to ignore it and hoping it will go away, the problem will just keep continuing. Through education we can teach the new generations of respect for women. If we re-define society we can make individuals act more accordingly. If people are not held accountable for their actions and made an example of, the harassment will never stop. For discrimination of women’s pay, it shouldn’t even exist with the Equal Pay Act but women today are still getting paid less. A way to combat this situation is to encourage women to negotiate their wages to help gain what they deserve and overall encourage their sense of place in the workforce.
Women have come a long way to defy society’s standards to live the way they dream and get the equality they deserve. They have successfully gained voting rights and societal acceptance, along with entering the workforce and educational participation but, in my opinion, the roles have stayed the same. Though they are not as prominent as they were in the 1800’s, women still feel the need to conform to the mothering role of taking care of their children along with baring the work of the household like cooking and cleaning. Even with the responsibilities of work, women are still bound to family ingrained roles, “Studies show that young women, even young girls, start thinking early about how they will manage both work and family” (Anderson p. 151). Men are slowly taking care work away from women but women still are more likely to deal with the wide expanse of work in the house. And though women have received acceptance within society through various Amendments being passed, discrimination with will always be looming within societal norms whether it is realized or not. Discrimination of women can be found within the wage gap, present within the schooling, and the work that women are expected to pursue. If women are truly to be assorted into equal roles within society, it is still in the process of being successfully accomplished.
Sexism will always be present in our society and it is something that has cultivated for centuries. This very cultivation needs to be presented and discussed if brought up in society. People need to spread the word that sexist comments and/or acts are not okay. Influential organizations such as schools, should integrate ways to fight this stereotyping between women and men at an early age that way it is prevented in future generations. If we can teach our younger generations to respect and treat everyone equally, this discrimination can overall be abolished from societal norms.
- Andersen, M. L. (2015). Thinking about women: Sociological perspectives on sex and gender (10th ed.). Pearson.
- Behn, J. Gender and Work [Powerpoint Slides]. Retrieved from https://moodle.bergen.edu/course/view.php?id=33233
- Behn, J. Gender and Education [Powerpoint Slides]. Retrieved from https://moodle.bergen.edu/course/view.php?id=33233
- Childers, Chandra. “Pay Equity & Discrimination.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, iwpr.org/issue/employment-education-economic-change/pay-equity-discrimination/.
- Shah, Dhara. “The Evolution of Women in the Workforce (1865-2015).”
- Workingwomen.web.unc.edu, WordPress, 23 Apr. 2015, workingwomen.web.unc.edu/.
- Tyson, Laura D’Andrea, and Ceri Parker. “An Economist Explains Why Women Are Paid Less.” World Economic Forum, World Economic Forum, 8 Mar. 2019,
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Sociological Perspectives On Sex And Gender. (2021, Apr 08). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/sociological-perspectives-on-sex-and-gender/
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